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Published on June 26th, 2013 | by Thomas Gerke


100% Renewable Energy And Beyond!

June 26th, 2013 by  

While many countries still discuss whether or not a 100% renewable energy system – or “just” a 100% renewable electricity supply – is even theoretically possible, Germans seem no longer bothered by such unscientific doubts. To make matters “worse,” some of them (including myself) are even convinced that a transition to a 100% renewable energy system can and should be accomplished within only a few decades’ time.

100RE-beyond-HeaderSome people might find this different perception of the problems we face to overcome the energy crisis of the 21st century so puzzling that they would rather choose to believe that the Germans have simply gone mad. Luckily, nothing could be further from the truth, and I’ve got a few nice examples that might explain the German mindset.

Think Big In Small Pieces

The German push towards a renewable future is often portrayed through the tunnel vision of the author’s worldview and the common themes of the political debates in her or his home country. Quite often, this kind of quality journalism turns a “minimum price law based on technology costs – in combination with guaranteed market access for all investors”(Feed in Tariff) into “generous, (tax-funded) subsidies”. Another popular myth among so called “professional journalists” is that what is happening in Germany is due to on some kind of “big government” program. Obviously, this domestic narrative-driven reporting is not very interested in looking at important details that could explain the big picture.

One of the most important details being missed by most of those common limited observations is the fact that the renewable energy success of the last decade was mainly driven by some pioneering regions, counties, and municipalities. Those local communities moved forward with conviction, while many others have remained dormant willingly or hindered by state governments that blocked investments by passing arbitrary anti-renewable regulations in favor of conventional power companies.

Luckily, some state elections and the spread of knowledge about the positive effects of renewable energy deployment for local economies have removed a lot of the brake blocks of the past. So, what can be accomplished within a decade if local initiatives get the opportunity to shape their energy future without obstruction?

Germany Top 3 Renewable Counties

To showcase what we know about what is at least possible, here are the top 3 out of 295 Landkreise (Counties / administrative districts) in terms of the renewable share in their regional power mix. Most of their success is based on investments during the last 10–15 years based on technology that is now outdated.

#3 Renewable Landkreis

#3 — Renewable Landkreis

#2 - Renewable Landkreis

#2 — Renewable Landkreis

#1 - Renewable Landkreis

#1 — Renewable Landkreis

This is Possible Everywhere

Those three counties are obviously just the tip of the renewable energyberg. The list of 100–200% renewable counties is longer, and the still rather long list of counties below 10% will get shorter in the coming years.

Here’s what we know: The advances of renewable energy technology and the growing understanding among local governments/business leaders creates a very fertile basis for a new wave of rapid renewable energy growth.

The newest generation of low-wind optimized wind turbines and the improved wind power–related land-use regulations in many German inland states offer great, previously underestimated potential for the cheapest renewable energy source.

13.8% of the land-area =  the provisional technical & environmental potential

13.8% of the land-area = the provisional technical & environmental potential — actual realizable potential is lower.

At the same time, the German solar industry and its remaining 80,000–100,000 employees are working tirelessly to emancipate themselves from the cost-covering feed-in tariff by diversifying their portfolio, offering smart energy solutions and building new alliances with other established German industries (storage, energy and micro grid management systems, etc).

That these further growth potentials will be unlocked is not mere wishful thinking on my part. Many regions across Germany have already declared their own 100% renewable electricity and even 100% renewable energy ambitions. They organize, hold conferences, and share their experiences in order to develop their individual road maps. Additionally, more and more regional utilities, and even some of the “former” nuclear and coal giants, have begun to transform their business models from primitive energy providers to modern managers of energy flows.


To add yet another piece to the utterly under-reported big picture, I want to encourage you to combine all these individual developments with the knowledge that solar and wind are now cheaper than the electricity rate for households, commercial customers, and in many cases even industrial customers – causing 30% of all German businesses to plan investments in renewable capacities.

If you do combine all the puzzle pieces, I am sure that you’ll see that we are only at the beginning of the energy revolution here in Germany, and producing enough renewable energy is definitely not the problemall those outdated 20th century devices that still consume fossil fuels are!


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About the Author

is a close observer of the scientific, political and economic energy debate in Germany and around the globe. Inspired by the life's work of the renewable energy advocate Hermann Scheer, Thomas focuses on spreading information that showcase the possibilities & opportunities of a 100% renewable energy system. Though technology is key for this energy shift, he also looks at the socio-economic benefits and the political, as well as structural barriers.

  • Noman

    Where in Frankfurt i can buy home solor system for home, any recommendations?

  • Rainer Klute

    Sorry, but this post is missing a very important point. To be 100 %
    renewable, you must not only be able to produce the amount electricity
    you need during a year, but at each an every moment.

    This is where solar and wind fail and where dispatchable power from coal or
    nuclear kicks in and saves the day – especially the still day and the
    dark night.

    No, there’s not a single region running on 100 % renewables.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Neither coal nor nuclear are dispatchable. They are “always on” generation and in order to operate on a grid they need storage and dispatchable generation to fill in for their gaps. We use hydro, dispatchable gas and storage in order to match supply and demand.

      There are a few islands that are close to being 100% renewable. Given that they started implementation only a couple years ago means that they’ll need a bit of time to get there.

      If you wish to be an absolutist about it, there’s Iceland which runs on 100% renewable hydro and geothermal. And several other countries which run on 100% hydro.

      Look, at one time we got 0% of our electricity from coal or nuclear. It took years to build each up to their final peak contribution, before they started to fade from the grid. It will take more than 20 years to build a 100% renewable grid in the US. It’s a very large, but doable, job.

  • Peter McKinnon

    Germany is clearly a leader in renewables and it’s fascinating to see a comparison across counties.
    I find the article misleading though because it flips between renewable energy and renewable electricity in a way which mixes the two. E.g. is introduces the graphs by saying ”here are the top 3 out of 295 Landkreise (Counties / administrative districts) in terms of the renewable share in their regional power mix” and then shows graphs which only show the electricity component of that power mix. Presumably the actual renewable energy as a proportion of total energy consumption is a much less favourable picture. This is the more relevant ration when it comes to the climate. That’s not to say that the renewable electricity isn’t impressive. It is. But it should be represented accurately. Sorry for this to sound negative but I think it’s important to be squeaky clean on the facts if we want to convert minds to renewable energy possibilities. If I’m misunderstanding the article, I’d appreciate some light on this. Regards,

    • ThomasGerke

      Hello Peter,
      thank you very much for your constructive criticism – always welcome. I think you are absolutly right and at the same time it won’t matter eventually.

      I definatly should have been more careful with the terms energy & electricity, though I thought it would be obvious that the “power mix” refers to electricity.

      The reason why this difference has less relevance in the long run, comes with the nature of how an efficient renewable energy(!) system will eventually work. To my knowledge it’s the common understanding throughout science & engineering, that the energy “markets” for electricity, heat and transportat will have to be linked in the 21st century.

      Wind & solar energy will have to be the primary energy source of such an energy system, due to their huge technical potentials – generating “easy” to transport electricity that supplies most of our future energy needs directly by powering our machines & appliances, our heatpumps and our vehicles. Due to the daily / weekly uncertainty of wind & solar generation a fraction of their output will have to be stored to cover the gaps.

      Taking possible efficiency potentials into account(a main pillar of the energy transition), approximatly 140-170% of todays gross electricity generation would be enough to power all our energy needs(electricity, heat & transport) by tapping into the wind & the sun as our main primary energy source.

      There would also have to be a biomass, hydro & solar thermal component.

      I hope that made sense, I gotta write an article about how the future system will / could look like based on todays knowledge one day. There are obviously some variables, but some things seem quite certain.

      That’s why I simply wanted to show that you can get more than enough renewable electricity/energy within a few years and technology is increasingly ready.

      The counties I showcased have not yet established a working renewable energy / electricity system. They produce a net-renewable electricity surplus and the grid is their “storage”. Their local (primary) energy generation is already “Future Renewable Energy System Ready” though.

      Today the main challange is to build the political / regulatory foundations that allow the future energy system to establish itself. Most technological hurdles are already taken or known to be solveable.

      The accomplishment of those +200% renewable electricity counties has been to overcome the unscientific conventional wisdome, that the renewable energy potential would not be sufficient to build an energy system around it.

      In 1995 the nay-sayers said that windpower could at most supply 10% of the electricity consumption of north german states. That was the “theorethical limit” of those days. Today some north German states have formulated the goal of producing 300-400% of their net-electricity consumption with renewable energy sources by 2020.

      Hope my reply is helpful to you 🙂

    • hmm, I always read “power” as electricity, and “energy” as broader.

  • photosymbiont

    Very informative post – one other thing to mention is Germany’s rapid development of renewable energy storage technology – for example, using CO2 from sources like the atmosphere of biogas generation (just one step away from the atmosphere, via agricultural photosynthesis) as the raw material for methane and other hydrocarbon synthesis, using renewable electricity to drive the chemistry forward.

    See the recent article at on this:

    Audi opens power-to-gas facility in Werlte/Emsland; e-gas from water, green electricity and CO2″ – 25 June 2013

  • anderlan

    In the first 3 graphics, what are the power numbers (MW) on the left? I would imagine they would be an average over the year, maybe, but if they are, why aren’t they directly proportional to the annual GWh numbers?

    • ThomasGerke

      The MW numbers on the left describes the installed power capacity.
      Over the year in Germany solar operates with a capacity factor of approx. 11%, wind in the north at 26% and biomass 70%.

      So they are direct proportional, but in their way.

      • anderlan

        Of course! I feel dumb now, I knew I would. The comparison of the numbers provide a huge amount of insight. Thank you.

  • Ivor O’Connor

    Very nice article. I’m going to read and reread this and of course put a link to it. It’s a shame Bavaria still has nuclear power.

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